In 2009, Courtney Nichols Gould left her job as a tech startup executive, moved to Los Angeles, and took a beat to think about what she wanted to do next. While in LA, she reconnected with an old colleague, Gordon Gould, who was researching how nutrition affects children’s brain health. The two joined forces and launched SmartyPants, a vitamin company with a sharp focus on high-quality ingredients, affordability, and great taste. Coincidentally, she and Gordon also fell in love and got married, so her business partner is now her real-life partner, too.
We checked in with Courtney on her biggest hurdles, best advice, and what it’s like to run a multimillion-dollar business with her spouse.
How did you step into the wellness space?
SmartyPants started out as a conversation among friends and shared struggles in finding an elegant, high-quality, palatable, and affordable solution to gaps in our diets and our family’s diets. Initially, we just wanted to launch a comprehensive solution for parents, but as soon as we launched our “baby” online back in 2011, we heard from so many parents that they wished we would make a comprehensive supplement for them to use as well. We realized the problem we were trying to tackle was great. Any problem takes time, attention, and likely money to solve, so being able to put all that energy toward solving a problem for a much larger group of people moved our interest to an all-out obsession that has been the engine for our growth—both in the number of customers and retailers we serve (from Amazon to Whole Foods to Costco) to the number of grant recipients we reach through our work with Vitamin Angels (8 million grants and counting!).
If you could go back to year one, what piece of advice would you give to yourself?
Every unpredictable nightmare increases your company’s capacity to handle its much bigger future—which turns a negative into a very big positive.
What do you think are some of the biggest hurdles in the wellness space today?
I think the scariest one is the “everyone is an expert” issue. Wellness has become one of the biggest growth areas for investment, which means a ton of money is flooding in, so ill-founded ideas can get resources. That might have negative consequences for investors in a field like fashion or mattresses, but in a field that intervenes with someone’s health, consequences are felt by the end user themselves. Combining that growth with primarily online sales without the kind of checks that retailers require (proof that you are testing and producing your products in accordance with FDA guidance) can create the very real risk that someone could become hurt, which is bad for all of us.
“Having someone in the trenches with you, husband or not, is critical to make sure you are leading with your best ideas.”
What is the best part of having a Co-CEO? And what’s it like working with your husband?
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely and stressful business. Having someone in the trenches with you, husband or not, is critical to make sure you are leading with your best ideas. Bouncing things off each other ensures more rigor around your thinking and also means you can have a bad day and someone else can help step in and vice versa. Most of the great businesses I admire have a team at the helm. Working with your significant other can be hard, and it can be amazing! It’s all about communication. We feel really lucky to have been able to build this business together and for our kids to witness the amount of work required to build something from scratch.
Do you have any advice for women who are considering getting into business with their partners?
Make sure you have different skill sets. It works for us because we have very different areas of expertise. I run the business with a focus on product design from beginning to end, and he is our chief data scientist with a strong expertise in e-commerce—the foundation of our business.
What about your job makes you feel the most complete?
Being able to see that we are having a real impact: Through providing a better product to our customers; by showing other companies they can make better choices and still be profitable, which helps to change the industry as a whole; and by putting a matching grant in place with Vitamin Angels before we launched. That allows us to have a much bigger impact than we ever thought possible.
Where do you see the wellness and vitamins industries in the next 5 years?
I think you will see an increasing focus on quality and efficacy and a lot of new and interesting formats to drive compliance. With a lot of investment dollars out there, there will be plenty of competition, and that’s always a good thing for the end user.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Never do or say anything you wouldn’t want to see printed on the front of the New York Times.
It’s how you make the hard decisions—that no one will ever know about—that shows you where your integrity lies.
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